In this article, Yi and Angay-Crowder outline many of the challenges to integrating multimodal practices into TESOL teacher education classes. While many teachers recognize the benefits of multimodality, they often feel unprepared to make use of these new approaches in their own teaching. Differentiating between multimodality, “an interdisciplinary, social semiotic approach that understands communication and representation as the integration of multiple modes for meaning making” (p. 990) and multiliteracies, pedagogy that integrates “situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice” (New London Group, 1996, p. 83), they view the former as the foundation for the latter. Next, they describe two multimodal assignments Yi introduced to her teacher education courses. The first involved her preservice and inservice teachers creating multimodal final presentations for an SLA course, based on the principle that teachers need to be able to use these techniques themselves before they will be able to use them productively with their students. The second required her students to create 5 minute digital stories to use as instructional materials alongside lesson plans they had designed for their students. The challenges in using these types of assignments in teacher education classes were threefold. First, multimodal representations are often seen as less legitimate ways of knowing, especially in academic contexts, where unimodal print-based learning dominates. Second, designing rubrics that accounted for both the teachers’ content knowledge and their multimodal project design was an issue. Finally, there was resistance and skepticism from the teachers themselves. Concerns about their own technical and content skills, lack of resources or time, and the need to prepare students for traditional tests are likely to be factors that influence teachers’ perceptions of multimodal learning. To counter these issues, Yi and Angay-Crowder encourage us to reconceptualize multimodal practices as relevant for all students, not just high or low achievers, and as legitimate as more traditional text-based methods. They also recognize the need to create assessments that match the teaching practices and allow students to represent their achievement multimodally. By reflecting on the widespread multimodality of our everyday literacy practices, and experimenting with multimodality within teacher education classes so that we can directly experience the process of designing and creating multimodal texts, they believe we can address the fundamental issues underlying the underuse of multimodality in TESOL teacher education.
One thing that really stood out to me was their suggestion to teach the metalanguage of multimodal texts, and to allow students opportunities to explain their design choices. When I was in graduate school, a friend of mine did a presentation on how we could be better integrate multimodality into our “teaching the four skills” class, which she encouraged us to reconceptualize as “six skills,” including both receptive and productive multimodal skills alongside reading, writing, speaking and listening. One of the things I remember most from her presentation was the way she demonstrated the meaning inherent in visual choices and how students can be taught to process those choices the same way they would another mode of communication. Perhaps if I was to do something like this with teachers I was training, I would ask for a short reflection alongside the final project, where they could highlight some of their choices. I also think the “teacher first” principle will be a useful one for me to keep in mind going forward, to make sure my teachers are able to use these new communicative modes before they expect their students to, especially in the less-digital contexts in which I work. Although, it is worth noting that multimodality is more than just digital, which was a misperception of mine when I first encountered the term. I’d be interested in ways to more explicitly integrate non-digital multimodality into teacher training as well, particularly movement.
Yi, Y. & Angay-Crowder, T. (2016). Multimodal pedagogies for teacher education in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(4), 988-998.